- Range: The lesser prairie-chicken currently occupies a five-state range that includes portions of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
- Status: Northern DPS-Proposed Threatened; Southern DPS-Proposed Endangered
- Population estimate: Results from aerial population surveys conducted by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies estimate a range-wide five-year average population size of 27,384 individuals.
About the lesser prairie-chicken
The lesser prairie-chicken is emblematic of the grasslands of the southwest, a treasured and storied American landscape of great importance to the people who call the area home. It is a species of prairie grouse commonly recognized for its colorful spring mating display and stout build.
While historical estimates suggest lesser prairie-chickens once numbered in the hundreds of thousands or even millions across nearly one hundred million acres, populations have declined drastically due to habitat loss and fragmentation. It is estimated that lesser prairie-chicken habitat has diminished across its historical range by about 90 percent.
Lesser prairie-chickens need large tracts of relatively intact native grasslands and prairies to thrive, and are considered a "boom-bust" species with annual reproductive success tied to precipitation patterns.
The Service, in cooperation with state wildlife agencies, private landowners and other partners, is working to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken and the native grasslands and prairies that support the species.
On June 1, 2021, the Service proposed listing two distinct population segments (DPS) of the lesser prairie-chicken under the Endangered Species Act. Our scientific review of past, present and future threats to the lesser prairie-chicken and ongoing conservation efforts found the Southern population is in danger of extinction, and the Northern population is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. Accordingly, we proposed to list the Southern population as endangered under the ESA and the Northern population as threatened with a 4(d) rule that tailors protections.
The Southern DPS encompasses lesser prairie-chicken populations in eastern New Mexico and across the southwest Texas Panhandle. Habitat in this population segment is comprised largely of shinnery oak prairie. The Northern DPS encompasses lesser prairie-chicken populations in southeastern Colorado, southcentral to western Kansas, western Oklahoma and the northeast Texas Panhandle. This DPS includes the lesser prairie-chicken’s short-grass, mixed-grass and sand ecoregions.
We are evaluating all new information gathered during the public comment period and will make a final listing determination in June 2022.
The lesser prairie-chicken became a candidate for listing under the ESA in 1998 and was listed as a threatened species in 2014. The listing was vacated in 2015 following a lawsuit. In September 2016, we received a new petition to list the lesser prairie-chicken as endangered, and in November 2016 made a substantial 90-day petition finding that listing may be warranted. We proposed listing two Distinct Population Segments of the lesser prairie-chicken in May 2021, which was followed by a 90-day comment period.
Species Status Assessment
Our peer-reviewed species status assessment (SSA) provides a biological risk assessment and incorporates the effects of both the threats and conservation efforts impacting the lesser prairie-chicken and evaluates its current condition. It also examines its biological status under varying plausible future conditions, incorporating the implications of future threats and conservation actions. According to the assessment, habitat loss and fragmentation are expected to continue, even when accounting for ongoing and future conservation efforts, which will result in continued declines across the species’ range.
Partners in Lesser Prairie-Chicken Conservation
For over two decades, we've been working with our federal, state and private partners to facilitate the conservation of the lesser prairie-chicken and its habitat. These partnerships have resulted in a number of conservation efforts for the lesser prairie-chicken. Together we have made great strides, including raising awareness and conserving key habitat, but we still have a long way to go for a sustainable, long-term impact.
These efforts include the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies' Range-wide Plan and associated Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances for oil and gas and U.S. Department of Agriculture programs such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Working Lands for Wildlife Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative and Farm Service Agency (FSA) Conservation Reserve Program.
In addition, there are numerous conservation efforts being led by state and regional programs, including but not limited to: Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism’s Habitat First; our Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in all five lesser prairie-chicken states; the Shortgrass Prairie Initiative in Colorado by The Nature Conservancy and Colorado Department of Transportation; Colorado Parks & Wildlife Lesser Prairie-Chicken Habitat Improvement Program; U.S. Forest Service Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands management; Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Lesser Prairie-Chicken Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA); Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Wildlife Management Areas; Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Lesser Prairie-Chicken CCAA; The Nature Conservancy properties in New Mexico; the New Mexico Candidate Conservation Agreement and CCAA; U.S. Bureau of Land Management Lesser Prairie-Chicken Habitat Preservation Area of Critical Environmental Concern; and Prairie-Chicken Areas owned by New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.